Category Archives: art

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life, or Something

Noire et blanche by Man Ray, 1926

You there: Settle a bet. Would this be art imitating life, or life imitating art? Or life imitating art imitating life?

This is going to take some explaining, so please be patient.

Round House Theatre’s production of Thomas Gibbons’s Permanent Collection, about a racially charged struggle for control of a museum, doesn’t open for three weeks. But the Phillips Collection is hosting a preview of selected scenes this evening. Why the Phillips? Because it’s about to close Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens — a brilliant, unconventional exhibit that touches on many of the same issues vis-à-vis how race impacts art’s perceived value that Gibbons’s 2004 drama does. Continue reading

The Folger’s Radiant Arcadia: Sexy-Time for Your Brain

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Whaddaya mean I’m two years too late for a Borat joke?

This still from Aaron Posner’s brilliant new staging of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the Folger wouldn’t make me want to run out and see it, really. But I hope my DCist review will inspire you to do just that. Best thing I’ve seen on a stage in 2009, certainly, and probably going back a goodly while earlier than that. Run, don’t walk.

What, you want more? Okay. Review proper begins after the jump.
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Art Spiegelman: Deleted Scenes

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What a thrill it was for me to talk last week with comics master Art Spiegelman, who’ll give his Comix 101 lecture tonight at the Corcoran. If you’re still curious after reading my preview (it’s a PDF) in today’s Examiner (aimed, like Spiegelman’s talk, at comic book civilians, after all), here’s a little more Spiegelmania, in the from of excerpts from our conversation last Thursday.
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Before I Lose the Minutiae

NEA Fellows in Los Angeles, April 24, 2009

Aw, Hell, it’s already gone.

It’s been six days since my NEA Fellowship wrapped up in Los Angeles with ace program director Sasha Anawalt dancing to U2’s “Beautiful Day” (twice) while making her closing remarks to me and my 22 new best friends from media outlets around the country. The program was a 11-day motion blur spent talking about the nature and purpose of Art, and criticism, with journalists and theatre artists; of sobering reports of arts journalists (including many of the ones in the room) losing their jobs; of experiencing theatre; of being schooled in writing, but also in dancing and acting; of critiquing each other’s written work; of being isolated in a fancy hotel together; eating together; being bussed everywhere together; and of drinking together every night, accumulated sleep-dep and looming deadlines be damned.

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Constellation’s Succesful Marriage

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Katy Carkuff and Joe Brack rehearse a scene from The Marriage of Figaro.

“Apollo’s warrant” and “Wag-errant” do not rhyme — not really — but Allison Stockman doesn’t want to hear it. By which we mean she does want to hear it: “Embrace the rhyme,” she instructs her charges. “Make it rhyme!”

Words to live by, or at least to perform by.

It’s a Sunday afternoon half a week into the new year, and Stockman is dismissing the cast of Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro from the Source building’s second floor rehearsal room overlooking fashionable 14th Street NW. Their homework? To parse the rhythm of the play’s spoken prologue. But “Embrace the rhyme” could just as well be a glib reduction of the company’s mission statement, which promises “visionary, expressive design with heightened physical movement and elevated language.”

That probably reads well on a grant application, but Stockman’s self-descibed “epic ensemble” has built a reputation for delivering the goods, establishing itself less in barely more than a year and a half as a destination for actors and audiences alike. Constellation made its splashy debut with a June 2007 production of August Strindberg’s obscure A Dream Play, as reworked by Caryl Churchill. (“Brisk, accessible, and surprisingly humorous,” praised This Very Newspaper at the time.) An imaginative, highly popular The Arabian Nights followed the same year.

Since then, Constellation has taken on — with varying degrees of success — critiques of socioeconomics and ethics (Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechwan), Greek tragedy (The Oriestia) and Faust-as-political allegory (Vaclav Havel’s Temptation).

The texts, which Stockman selects with the company’s seven “associate artists,” outwardly have little in common except that they call for large ensembles (a trait Stockman looks for) were all written, or derived from source material, in languages other than English (which she says she hadn’t even noticed). But the 34-year-old Baltimore native and former teacher has nonethless made her productions reflect a unified artistic vision. The link is Constellation’s house style; one that incorporates original music, dance and unabashedly outsized performances.

But — this is important — they’re still plays. Not musicals.

Not even Figaro, best known as a Mozart opera.

No, this “Figaro” comes more or less from the source: Pierre Beaumarchais’s long-censored 1778 sex comedy (or “comedy of manners,” if we must) wherein, as in the movie Braveheart, a nefarious regal type stirs up trouble by invoking his right of primae noctis — basically, dibs on a local virgin before she’s married off to some other dude. (And you complain about your taxes!) Stockman needs a little prodding to admit she stitched the script together herself from a half-dozen translations, though she’s quick to share credit with dramaturg Christie Denny, and to point out that on-the-fly revisions have come from the entire cast.

For this “period-Lite” production, Stockman is emphasizing the play’s roots in commedia dell’arte, treating her actors to a workshop conducted by mimes Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell.

Visually, Stockman and resident designer A.J. Guban are using the oblong shapes of Gaudi’s buildings and Goya’s “light, pastoral” paintings as their touchstones. Costumer Yvette M. Ryan has dressed the title character and his bride — both servants — more modestly than is historically accurate, to help the audience grasp the hierarchy of the characters, given that class is one of Beaumarchais’s major themes. It’s a liberty Stockman was happy to take.

“We’ve got this French play, set in Spain, that’s best known for being an Italian opera written by an Austrian, and we’re doing it in the U.S.” she laughs. “So we felt like we had some freedom.”

Constellation Theatre Company’s The Marriage of Figaro is at the Source, 1835 14th St. NW. (800) 494-8497. Thursday-Feb. 22. $20. Tickets are here.

A slightly shorter version of this story appears in today’s Paper of Record.

How Theater Failed America

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I reviewed Mike Daisey’s deeply personal indictment of the theatre for DCist.

Marat/Sade at Forum

Fringe is over, but Forum’s Marat/Sade has two more weekends left in its run. Reviewed for DCist . . . more than a week ago. I’m a bit behind in my blogkeeping.